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by Marc Singer
Part 3 of The Tazakles Gambit
Anne Benson always felt uncomfortable in costume. She wasn't wearing any of the spandex-and-chrome outfits that the public expected of its superheroesno Omegas did, really, except maybe that mysterious Rapidfire guy out in Crystal Citybut her conservative blue business suit felt just as unnatural. The skirt, pantyhose, and heels felt particularly odd to Anne, since she knew it would be very hard to fight in them.
As if battles were now a regular part of her life. One month of peace and rest at her parents' home still hadn't erased the six months of running and fighting that had gone before. That one month also hadn't earned her any money, so Anne was furiously searching for a job. Anne got along with her parents just fine, but at age twenty-three, she wanted to have her own place again.
Which explained why she was wearing an uncomfortable suit and sitting in the office of the Americans for Full Disclosure, where she'd worked before the day that changed her life. Anne didn't think she had much of a chance of working for the AFD again, since the lobbying group had fallen out of power after the latest Congressional elections, and everyone was cutting back. But Anne discovered that her job prospects had increased immensely, the minute she walked into AFD director Sondra Wharton's office and saw Senator Reed Montgomery Graves sitting there.
The Senator's presence wasn't that uncanny; he was, after all, one of the AFD's best friends on Capitol Hill, especially after the last election. But he was also running for President, and his eyes might as well have reflected rising polls and oval offices when he laid them on Anne Benson, America's Number One Hot New Media Darling.
(The media attention wasn't entirely due to her own considerable achievementssome tabloid idiots still insisted on calling her "Tempest's Girl Friend.")
Graves eagerly shook her hand; he had a firm, warm, and slightly-too-long handshake. The black senator did at least have enough class to skip most of the pleasantries and bullshit and get right down to business. "I want you to come work for me," he said.
Sondra chirped in before Anne could reply. "We both think you could do a lot more good in his office than in this one."
"And your insight would be invaluable for my work on the Omega Oversight Committee," Graves smoothly continued. "It could prevent other Omegas from being hounded and abused like you and your grandfather."
Anne sat down and collected herself, giving herself the time to think that they were obviously trying to deny her. When she was ready, she said, "Senator Graves, I really admire your work, but this would obviously be a political appointment."
"Aren't they all?" Graves smiled.
"You know what I mean. I would just be hired for media value, not to do any actual work. And I'm not interested in selling out my image for others' political benefit."
Sondra tried to break into the conversation as a mediator, but Graves wouldn't let her. "Anne, I'm going to be honest with you. I need your help, because right now I don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of getting elected in '96." Anne suspected that the senator was accustomed to more colorful metaphors, but the "snowball in hell" was the only one he would use publicly in this age of family values. "With you," the senator continued, "even if I don't win the nomination, I can still get my message out to lots of people, and maybe make a difference in the way Omegas are treated. Will you help me make a difference?"
Anne rose from her chair, almost unconsciously using telekinesis to smooth out her skirt. Damn women's clothing... "Senator," she said, "I thought my previous answer was pretty clear, but I guess not. So here it is again: no."
Graves didn't lose one bit of his temper or his cool. "Anne, you'd better think again. Working for me is your best shot for improving this country. What else are you going to do, put on a mask and fight crime? Wait until the next wacko comes along claiming to be a god, so you can pound on him? That doesn't really solve anything, and you know it." The senator's voice rose dramatically. "It's like shoving your fingers into ten tiny cracks when the whole dam is about to break. What the dam really needs is repairing, Anne, and you can help me do just that."
"Nice speech. Try it on the masses, okay Senator?" Anne picked up her purse and left.
As soon as Anne hit the lobby, she wanted to run back up to the AFD and ask for a job; only her dignity stopped her. Anne hadn't had much luck finding work anywhere else. Her Omega powers and national fame might have been an asset for Graves, but they were liabilities for every other employer she'd tried. Why hire Anne Benson to work in your office when at any moment some crazed Omega could crash through the window and pick a fight with her?
But Anne refused to be hired solely as someone else's image builder, even a "good" politician like Reed Graves. She wanted to build her own career, not someone else's.
Still, she thought, a Senator's office.... Anne walked out of the office building's lobby, shouldering past lawyers, messengers, and a mailman, feeling stupid for not running back to Graves. Anne also felt stupid for turning down Brenda Washington's old offer to join the Seekers. Anne had no desire to do the government's dirty work, and she'd told Brenda as much, but now even that job seemed better than another month of living with mom and dad.
Anne walked across the street to her car, and realized she still wanted to run back and catch Graves before he left the AFD. So she could kill them all at once.
At this point, Anne realized she was picking up more than just her own thoughts. Someone was going up to the AFD office with murder on their mind, emoting this so powerfully that Anne was receiving it without even trying. She bolted for the office building, but those damn heels made running near impossible; frustrated, Anne decided to run all-out anyway, crushing her shoes with her first two steps.
But they'd still held her up too long. By the time Anne reached the lobby, she could tell the killer had gotten in an elevator and was already ascending to the AFD office. Anne rushed outside the building and around the corner, so she could see the AFD's windows. And she rose into the air.
The first time she'd tried telekinetically lifting herself to approximate flight, Anne had all the grace of a wounded buffalo (of course, Anne was wounded at the time). With over a month of practice, Anne could actually swoop dramatically if she tried.
She wasn't trying now. She just catapulted herself into the air as fast as she could, arcing towards the AFD window like an artillery shell. The building slid past her, the window rushed up to meet her, and before she knew it, Anne was crashing through the glass as though it were tissue paper. Naturally, Anne wasn't even scratched.
Even as she crashed through the window, Anne spotted the danger immediately. The young mailman she'd passed earlier had produced a submachine gun from his sack, and was shooting it wildly. Everybody else, including Graves, was ducking for cover behind tragically thin desks and chairs.
Anne grabbed hold of every bullet she could spot, freezing them in mid-air. That required enough force and concentration that she could no longer lift herself, but Anne simply allowed momentum to carry her into the room, landing right at the feet of the mailman. Strangely, the mailman ignored Anne and continued to fire at Graves. Anne stopped each bullet well before it reached him, so a perfect arc of evenly spaced bullets formed in the air, pointing towards the Senator like a dotted line from a comic book.
Anne stood up and grabbed the gun out of the mailman's hands, wringing it until it was a worthless mass of junk. The mailman tried to lunge past Anne and attack the Senator, but a gentle tap on his chest knocked the wind out of him.
Within minutesminutes that would have been enough for the deranged man to kill everyone in the officebuilding security arrived. The media wasn't far behind. Anne answered their questions politely but succinctly, then had to sit through a round of pictures, for which Reed Graves cheerfully stood next to her.
"Looks like you got your media darling anyway," Anne whispered.
"It certainly does," he whispered back, still looking at and smiling for the cameras. "But my offer still stands, and I could obviously use you on my team."
Anne had to say no. This whole thing with the mailman was a little too convenientAnne had tried scanning the killer's mind as soon as the fight was over, and she found nothing. Something had made the man a complete vegetable, save only an irrational hatred for the AFD and Graves. And while Anne didn't think the Senator was that Machiavellian, he was certainly benefiting from the incident now....
"I will tell you one thing," said Graves, "you've convinced me of the value of using Omega powers to fight crime."
"Always looking out for your own back, Senator?"
"Of course I am, Ms. Benson. This is Washington, D.C."
"Respect for your fellow human beings is the only thing that keeps society going," Harvey Hauptmann said. He gave his arms a little flex, just to show off his muscles and emphasize the seriousness of this subject matter. "When people like you try to walk all over everyone else, the whole system can break down. And I don't like that one bit." Harvey leaned close to his prey, shoving his face right in front of the nervous little man. "You understand that, punk?"
"I do, I do," blubbered the little man. He was on the verge of tears. "I swear, I wasn't doing anything wrong!"
"NOTHING ?!?" Harvey took a deep breath, inflating his chest.
"Okay, okay!" screamed the little man. "So I cut off some lady on the road! I didn't think you would chase me!"
"Well," said Harvey, "you should have thought of that before you decided to flip my daughter the bird." He lifted both of his arms high over his head. "Now, as to the matter of your reckless driving... what punishment do you suggest?"
Another voice interrupted the tense interrogation. "Grandpa! I've been looking all over for you!" Anne climbed out of her car, which she'd pulled over to the side of Laurel's Route 197. Several other drivers had pulled over, to watch the unfolding drama.
Harvey smiled at the sight of his grand-daughter. "I'll be with you in a minute, Annie. I've got a lawbreaker to deal with."
Anne almost laughed. "I think you can toss this one back into the ocean, grandpa. I've got a much bigger catch. You saw about the mailman today?"
Harvey's smile widened. "Sure did! You make a grandfather proud. You know, I always thought that 'disgruntled postal worker' thing was a cliche..."
"I thought so, too." Anne shifted to telepathy so nobody else could overhear. (Then again, I don't think that man was disgruntled. I think he was brainwashed. And I want to who did it.)
A case? You're serious? Harvey beamed first wonder, then excitement. You are serious! A real case! Let's do it!
"I thought you'd be happy to help," said Anne. "But first, give this poor guy his car back."
"Oh," Harvey said. "I forgot." He slowly lowered a sports car, which he'd been holding over his head for several minutes, back to the ground. Then he turned back to the little man. "Drive safe, now."
The little man nodded his head. He had every intention of doing so.
"Thanks for including me on this," said Harvey. He'd told his daughter (and Anne's mom) that he and Anne had important business, then hopped into Anne's car. Harvey had been fairly restless lately, just as Anne was. Harvey was in a slightly different situation, though; he didn't need to find a job, he didn't mind staying with the Benson family, he just needed something to do. Getting back in action after fifty years of hiding had stirred something in Harvey, and he didn't want to bottle it up again.
Anne said, "Mom told me you've been harrassing jaywalkers and speeders lately. Anything to stay in practice, huh?"
"That's right," Harvey replied. "I'm going to start using my powers to make a difference again. And if that means I have to start at the littlest level, well..." Harvey's voice trailed off, and he thought silently for a moment. Then he said, "It's all sort of pathetic, isn't it?"
"I think I liked it better when you sat around all day, whining about how rotten the Overman comics have gotten."
"Well, I have to do something, Annie. There's no point in pretending to be anything less than I am now. Why not use my powers for something good?"
Anne laughed, not a mean laugh, but a laugh of camaraderie. "Scaring drivers witless is something good?"
Harvey answered her too quickly. "About as good as pushing papers in an office."
Her grandfather blushed at his unconscious reply, but Anne just said, "Touche. And it isn't like I was going to get a job anyway."
Harvey lowered his head. "Well, I wasn't making much of a difference playing Super Traffic Cop, either." He ran his hands through his hair, the precious few white ones he still had. "Why does it always have to be this covert stuff? Why can't our villains rob banks for a change?"
"They are not our 'villains,' grandpa." Anne seemed to stress that a little too forcefully. "We aren't superheroes, okay?"
"Whatever you say." Harvey smiled impishly and leaned back in his seat, folding his hands over his belly. "Of course, you are the one who started on this case..."
"It's not a caseoh, what's the use?"
For Anne Benson, it was a long ride.
So tell me again why we're coming here first? Harvey's muscles tensed up and he asked the question with more than a little fear and anger. Anne couldn't blame himever since the forties, when Cornelius Owen sent him to the Georgia compound known as "Fort Deliverance," Harvey had hated prisons. And Maryland's Jessup Correctional Facility certainly qualified as one.
Harvey stayed alert and ready for combat the whole time, even though he and Anne never left the visitor areas. Anne offered to go in alone, but he insisted on accompanying her, just in case somebody tried to capture her. So Harvey subjected himself to the very unpleasant feeling of being in jail again, even if it was on the other side of the bars.
Anne and Harvey's celebrity, along with a little telepathic prodding from Anne, got them the audience they desired. The government was now very eager to be seen cooperating with Anne and Harvey, so the warden personally okayed their visit. While they were waiting for the prisoner to arrive, Anne tried to allay Harvey's fears.
Why not visit Graves? Harvey continued. He did get a nice photo opportunity out of that assassin, even though you'd already turned down his job offer.
I thought the same thing at first, Anne replied. But I scanned Graves shortly after the incident, and he didn't have any prior knowledge of the attempt. Besides, I saw the fear in his face when I came crashing through that windowhe really thought he was going to die. Anne flashed Harvey a brief picture. Besides, how would Graves have access to that kind of brainwashing? How would anyone, except...
Anne's train of thought was interrupted by the arrival of the man they'd come to see. Even though he was dressed in prison blues, bound with handcuffs, and confined to the other side of a thick glass partition, Dan Carter still looked like one nasty son of a bitch. Especially when he saw Anne and Harvey.
Dan reluctantly sat down opposite them and leaned into his microphone. He never stopped staring at them insolently, murderously. "What the hell do you two want? Come to gloat?"
Anne spoke into her microphone. "We want information, Dan. You know anything about the assassination attempt on Reed Graves today?"
Dan sneered. "Yeah, I know the postal service wasn't efficient enough." Then he dropped his sneer, fully exposing his malice once again. "Don't tell me you think I was behind it? I have a pretty good alibi for today... for the next ten to twenty years." He leaned even closer to the window, and whispered, "Thanks to you."
Harvey snapped, "Don't even try to blame us, you bastard. We didn't make you come after us."
"We didn't make you shoot at Owen in front of sixty thousand witnesses," Anne added.
"And we sure as hell didn't leave you to take the fall for Owen's crimes. It was Owen who landed you here, so don't think that you owe him anything," Harvey continued.
Anne decided to shift to 'good cop' as a counterpoint to Harvey's aggression. She tried to assume a pleasant, calming tone of voice, and she said, "Look, Dan. We all know that Reed Graves was the man who forced Owen to retire from SIRECOMofficially, anywayback in the seventies. That makes Owen a likely suspect for arranging his assassination. And you are his best buddy."
Dan laughed out loud, but stopped himself so suddenly that Anne wondered if he hadn't meant to laugh at all. "Sorry about that." He composed himself a little more, and said, "Do you honestly believe that I had anything to do with killing Graves? Do you think I had the time to sneak out and brainwash some mailman?" Dan then smiled maliciously. "Although I admit, we were pretty damn good at brainwashing... how's your boyfriend doing?"
Anne refused to let him bait her; it was hard, but she didn't reach through the glass and wipe the smirk off his face. She just sat calmly, and told Dan, "He's doing just fine. He checked himself out of the institution last week. Do you have that option, Dan?"
Anne and Harvey desperately wanted to give each other a high five when they saw the hurt expression on Dan's face, but again they held back. Harvey said, "We know you couldn't have done it, Carter. But we figured you'd know if Owen were up to something. So how about it? It might get you out of this place faster."
"I see what's going on here," Dan said. "That little restraining order of yours also keeps you from hassling him... so you came here to hassle me instead." Dan stood up, and nodded to the nearby guards to come and collect him. "Well, forget it. I owe Mister Owen everything"
"Including your cell," Anne added. She didn't say it with much force, because she already knew Dan had decided not to cooperate.
"What the hell do you know!" Dan shouted. "Mister Owen gave me everything! Who the hell are you to say he put me here?!?" Dan jabbed his finger at them accusingly, nearly ramming his handcuffed fists into the glass barrier as he did so. The guards came forward to restrain him. "And I'll tell you this," Dan screamed, "if I could only kill one person while I was in stir, it wouldn't be that fucker Graves, you know? It would be you, bitch, it would be you..."
"Thanks, Dan. That should carry you right past your first parole hearing." The guards were starting to haul a cursing Dan back to his cell, but Anne couldn't allow that just yet; she telepathically suggested they stop a moment, feeling bad for using her power on guys who were just doing an honest job. Then she asked Dan, "Can you at least tell us how to get in touch with Owen? He seems to have skipped town."
Dan laughed again; it came through very tinny, distorted, and menacing because he was far away from his microphone. "Screw you, bitch. You too, geezer."
Harvey rose, and said, "I'll show you a geezer!"
"Forget it, grandpa." Anne placed a hand on his shoulder. "It's obvious he won't tell us anything." She started putting her coat back on, while she allowed the guards to haul Dan away again. As he left the visitor room, Anne called after Dan one last time. Not through the microphone, but through his mind.
Enjoy the rest of your stay here, bastard. You deserve it.
Anne had to completely shut down her telepathy to end Dan Carter's ringing scream of rage.
Harvey let out a deep breath after they left the Jessup Correctional Facility. It seemed as if he hadn't exhaled at all the whole time they were in the prison. "That was unpleasant," he told Anne. "Was it worth anything?"
"Oh, yeah." Anne smiled. "There's nothing like a direct question to bring an answer to a person's mind... even if they don't actually say the answer. Owen is up in New York, I got a number and everything."
Harvey got back in the passenger seat of Anne's car, while his grand-daughter took the driver's seat. "What's Owen doing up in New York?"
"Since the U.S. government doesn't want anything to do with him, he's hooked up with the United Nations. Dan doesn't know much about what he's up to, but he is up to something."
Harvey pounded his left fist into his right palmfortunately, nothing but air was between them. "I thought we had an agreement that he wouldn't bother us again!"
"Oh, Dan thinks it isn't about us. But it could be about..."
Anne nodded. "To the nearest telephone, grandpa."
She floored it.
They probably didn't have to use a pay phone, but it had become standard procedure for talking to Owenit almost felt wrong to call him without one. Anne let Harvey have the honor of holding the phone, while she listened to the call telepathically.
Hearing Owen answer the phone, with his terse, businesslike greeting of "Yes," took both Anne and Harvey back to their days on the run. And through their telepathic link, each discovered that the other was actually a little wistful for those days.
"Yes?" Owen repeated.
"Hiya, Cornelius," Harvey said. "How's it hanging?"
"What theHauptmann? What are you doing, calling me?"
"Just thought I'd say hello to an old friend. So, I don't suppose you've been up to your old tricks lately?" Anne inwardly winced at Harvey's total lack of subtlety, but it was too late to stop it. She just waved for him to hand her the receiver.
"That is the most ridiculous slander I've ever heard! I've completely retired from the espionage business"
Harvey smiled and said, "C'mon, Cornelius, we know you had it in for Senator Graves. Now 'fess up." Anne winced again, and grabbed the receiver from Harvey; they couldn't talk to a U.N. associate the way they could to a convicted felon.
She heard Owen saying, "... Graves, that's ridiculous. Do you think you're going to tape a confession from me?" Just like Owen, she thought, paranoid enough to think they were taping their phone calls.
Then she realized that Owen probably was taping this phone call.
Anne cleared her throat, and held up the receiver. "Mister Owen," she said, "we just know that you still have... a certain amount of knowledge in these clandestine affairs. Perhaps you'd like to share that with us... since you would otherwise be the prime suspect for arranging the Graves attempt?"
Owen answered with an "Ahhh," his voice rising with delight. Perhaps because he could sense Anne retreating from Harvey's blatant accusations, or perhaps because he was more comfortable speaking in the ornate double-entendre b.s. that all these spy types seemed to favor. Or perhaps he just likes speaking to me, Anne thought, and the projected lechery made her shiver.
"Ms. Benson," Owen continued, "I hope you can be more reasonable than your thug of a grandfather." Harvey bristled over the mindlink, but Anne wouldn't give him the phone. "You do realize that a crime like this has no prime suspect, other than the poor mailman, of course? I'm afraid there really is no reason to link me to this case."
"Nobody else has such a good motive, Owen. And nobody else would be able to brainwash a man that thoroughly."
"Brainwash?" Owen quickly answered. "What makes you think he was brainwashed?"
"Come on, Owen, you think I wouldn't know?" Richard Cage still had scars from his time in Owen's captivity.
"Brainwashed...." There was a brief pause, then some sort of electronic hiss, perhaps a scrambler. Anne could just make out Owen saying, "Ms. Benson, I am hardly the only person in this country capable of brainwashing. I suggest you look back to everyone else you know who has acted for a mind not their own. Or everyone else who has suffered an untimely death. Maybe then you'll find the real culprit."
Owen ended the call. Anne stood next to the phone, thinking.
At about this time, a van from the Jessup Correctional Facility caught up to them, and its passengers, several uniformed and armed corrections officers, informed Anne and Harvey that Dan Carter had just tried to hang himself.
It took many, many hours to convince the prison staff that Anne hadn't used any psychic powers to push Carter to suicideespecially since she had probed Carter's mind, and had to cover up that fact. If it weren't for constitutional prohibitions (and shrinking budgets) that kept the prison from using psi-scanners in the visitor area, the Jessup officials probably would have known that Anne had penetrated Dan's mind, and that would have been enough to get Anne in trouble with the law all over again.
Anne didn't feel very good at all, knowing she would be in jail if Jessup had been a little less honest or a little more up-to-date.
Finally, the staff conceded that Dan was already unstable, that they had no evidence of Anne's wrongdoing, and that they wouldn't look good accusing her of an unprovable crime. Once Harvey pointed out that the last two people to persecute Anne and Harvey had their accusations backfire on themone of them, in fact, ending up right there in Jessupthe staff let Anne go, although not without a surly warning that they'd "keep an eye on her."
The only good news, if you can call it that, was that a guard had saved Dan Carter's life.
On the way back home, Harvey was even more convinced that Owen was responsible. "Not only does he tie up his loose ends," he argued, "but he makes us look bad... this is twice that somebody has almost been killed right after you left! Maybe he wants the world to think you're some sort of psychic murderess!"
"Owen was hiding something when we called him," Anne said, "but I don't think he's behind these attempted murders. For one thing, he didn't think we were calling about Graves. And he seemed genuinely surprised to hear that the mailman was brainwashed."
"Acting?" Harvey suggested. Harvey felt, with good reason and from bitter experience, that Owen's duplicity knew no bounds.
"Maybe," said Anne, "but then he also gave me that strange tip... everyone who's acted for a mind not their own... and untimely deaths...?" Anne tapped her fingers against the steering wheel for a moment, zoning out so much that her telekinesis had to kick in, to correct her driving.
Then she snapped her fingers, and said, "Of course!" She turned to Harvey. "Grandpa, we have to find Jack Russell. I think somebody's going to try to kill him."
Harvey chuckled. "Good luck."
Anne and Harvey split their duties for the next few days; one would search for Jack Russell, while another would covertly keep an eye on Senator Graves, just in case another maniac tried to correct the mailman's mistakes. Since both Omegas were eager to see some action, both threw themselves into the impromptu investigation.
It was Anne who actually found Jack, nestled deep within the stacks of Washington's Folger Shakespeare Library. Jack was poring over some old folios, but he was happy to see Anne, as she was one of the few people around whom he could be himselfmost of the world still thought Jack Russell was dead.
"I was just checking up on some aspects of my friend Hannibal's story," Jack explained, "trying to figure out if he's for real. Also, to find some sign of this group he keeps mentioning... but what brings you here?" he asked, quickly changing the subject.
They decided to take a walk outside, since D.C.'s January cold didn't bother them but it drove off any normal humans who might overhear them inside a warm building. Anne explained that she was checking up on any brainwashing victims, to find a link to the recent spate of crimes.
"At first I thought it might be some other person within SIRECOM, maybe even Brenda Washington herself. After all, the Senator is no friend to the intelligence community, and we all hate Carter." Anne sat down on a cold metal bench. "But then I noticed another string of untimely deaths across the country... a teacher getting car-bombed, a housewife dying of snake venom... something very weird is happening, Jack, and there's no common link between the deaths. Except that Owen tells me it involves other people who've been brainwashedand since Carter tried to kill himself, and my friend Rich checks out okay, that leaves you."
Jack sat next to her. "What makes you think you can trust Owen?"
"I know, I know, grandpa feels the same way. But admit it, Jack, there is something weird about the way you tried to kill Owen. And this 'mysterious benefactor' of yours... have you remembered who it was yet?"
Jack lowered his head and rested it in his hands. "No, no, I... I forgot the minute the chaos was over at the concert. Somebody used me, but... Anne, do you think I'm involved in these assassinations somehow? That I'll end up like that postman, what's his name... kind of Italian sounding..."
Anne patted him on the shoulder, and said, "No, Jack, I think you're over that. But the way you and Carter tried to kill Owen, it was almost like a prototype for these later killings. And the fall of Owen, maybe that was arranged just like the deaths of some of these later people. Including Graves.
"The thing is, Jack, you have to be alert. Because this person has already tried to eliminate Carter, and that means..."
"Too late, lady!" The voice's sudden intrusion startled Anneshe hadn't noticed anyone approaching, even psychicallyand she twisted around just in time to see a young Hispanic woman standing on the grass behind her. Pointing a gun. Firing
Anne leapt off the bench, dragging Jack with her, at maximum speed. Just as they hit the sidewalk, something flashed over their heads, and incinerated a portion of the lawn several yards away. Anne spun around, and saw the smoking hole and twisted metal in the back of the bench, at the spot where Jack had been. Great, she thought, they know enough about Jack to send a specialty gun.
Anne had no intention of giving this latest killer a second shot, so she lashed out with her telekinesis and crushed the gun. The woman was still trying to shoot it at Jack when Anne vaulted over the bench and crashed into her, tackling her to the grass. Jack wasn't far behind.
"Who sent you?" Jack hissed. "Who sent you!"
Anne tried a mindscan, but the poor woman's mind was already going fast... her eyes were rolling upwards, and her thoughts didn't include much more than an intense hatred of Jack... and a lingering name...
Jack was still trying to interrogate the woman, but Anne looked over to the now-useless gun. Advanced technology, lethal to even an immortal Omega... there was no corporate logo, but Anne had seen similar designs a few times before. Used by SIRECOM, but even SIRECOM hadn't displayed anything this nasty... it was a Dynamax prototype. There was no question.
Jack was now trying to revive the woman, who'd passed out. Anne told him that she'd take care of it, that he had to leave before the cops arrived.
"I'd like to know who's trying to kill me!" Jack protested.
"Well," Anne said, "I'll tell you. It's not Owen, or Graves, or Washington. It sure as hell isn't Matt Rossi of the U.S. Postal Service." She held up the ruined gun. "It's Jarvin Tazakles."
Jack's whole body shook, as if he were being jerked on a string he didn't know he'd had. "Tazakles... the benefactor!"
"Uh huh," Anne said. "Now get out of here. I'll be in touch."
Jack quickly walked away, while Anne found a phone so she could call the police and an ambulance. And later Harvey, of course.
It all made too much sense. Graves' politcking against SIRECOM had probably cost Tazakles lots of lucrative contracts. Dan and Jack were just 'hired help' who needed to be discarded. The other murder victims probably had some link to Tazakles as well.
And Anne was made to look like a murderer or mastermind, by being at the scene of three attempts. Anne nearly crushed the gun between her tense, white knuckles at the thought of being made an outlaw again.
Not that she could tell the police, of course. Jarvin Tazakles had half the public convinced he was a saint; the other half was just glad his plants employed people. No, there was only one group who would believe Anne. And that group was probably highest on Tazakles' hit list.
"Grandpa," she told Harvey once she got in touch with him, "we're going back to the Colony."
The New York skyline rose majestically, far higher than Washington's ever would. Up here, among the brightly-lit skyscrapers, one could almost forget the trash that accumulated below. Or at least know that one was superior to it. It was, all in all, the perfect place for Owen to begin his reascendancy.
For one fleeting instant, Hauptmann's call had actually scared him. Of course, once he realized the oaf was investigating the Graves attempt, and not Project: Stormkiller, he had regained control of himself.
And then the Benson girl foolishly blabbed about brainwashing. He knew he hadn't sent anyone to kill Graves (much as the thought had crossed his mind these past fifteen years), and that meant that Tazakles had. So he'd given the girl a few clues to send her Tazakles' way.
The greatest clue of all had just been sent today. Owen sipped from a Dom Perignon he'd saved for special occaisions like this one, and surveyed the stellar city around him. Tazakles, my friend... you sat by and helped my downfall along. The least I can do is return the favor.
Veronica Ramirez had been a good agent, and Owen regretted losing her. But ravaging her mind, embedding Tazakles' name, and giving her a Dynamax gun were all necessary if idiots like Benson and Hauptmann were ever to figure out that Tazakles was behind every other recent murder.
Owen looked at the neon logos floating high above the city, and he happened to see a Dynamax sign among them. He raised his glass, in honor of the imaginary sight of that billboard toppling down in flames to the sewage-filled streets below. Imaginary... and hopefully prescient.
"Here's to old friends," Owen said.
TO BE CONTINUED
Anne and Harvey return to the Colony in Pulse #16, part 4 of The Tazakles Gambit
While this issue doesn't follow directly from either one, you can catch Part 1 of the Gambit in Pulse #15, and Part 2 in Covenant #15.
And next issue, Legacy #16, will be a full-fledged part of this excellent multi-title crossover! Anne and Harvey alone are left to defend the Colony from a Dynamax attack, which costs the Colony dearly...
Reed Graves created by Stewart Brower, used with permission. Anne, Harvey, Jack, Owen, Dan, and all other characters created by and c. Marc Singer.
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